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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. D. Fox   9 December [1868]1

Delamere Ry | Northwich

Dec 9

My dear Darwin

Very many thanks for your letter.2 You ask several questions in it, which I will at once get off my mind.

I did not mean to assert that when one of a pair of Crows—Magpies &c is shot & replaced, “it is always the male”. In all the cases I have met with, or heard of, it has been the case, and for this reason possibly, that the Male Bird in Crows & Magpies, seems, until the young are hatched, continually engaged in collecting food for the female & conveying it to her on the nest, where she receives it with much the same demonstration of satisfaction, as young Rooks do.

There is no difficulty whatever in recognizing the Male Birds of either Crows or Magpies, and any keeper wd do so easily; but they also know them from the fact I have mentioned of their continually going to & from the nest to feed the incubating female,—and in doing this they are generally shot by the waiting Keeper, who knows of the nest.

The best way to ascertain about the sex of the shot & replaced Bird, would be to try the experiment with Rooks. Each sex might easily be shot in any Rookery where the trees are young—and the difficult fact as to where the single Birds come from to replace the shot ones, might be more easily traced in a Rookery than elsewhere.

Rooks so much resemble Carrion Crows, that I have no doubt similar phenomena would shew themselves in both.3

I have little doubt that you will find the numerical relations of the sexes in birds & beasts, as nearly as possible coincide, if your tables are large enough. In single cases they differ largely—but in the aggregate, will, I think be found to be nearly equal. In domestic poultry some years in a flock of Turkeys the Males preponderate often largely—but I have noticed that the next year the Hens are in the ascendant as much.

The Swan Goose is the China Goose. L Jenyns gives it that name from Bewick, and it so well describes the Bird, which is really quite an intermediate species, that I always call it so.4

I have today examined exactly into the facts respecting the hybrid Geese, which are not quite as I stated them in last letter. The old ones—were 1 common Gander with 3 Common Geese. 1 white China Gander with 1 white do Goose. The two latter were paired, and the other four kept together, until the China seduced one common Goose to live with him, and occasionally made inroads into his Neighbours Harem besides. 1 common Goose produced no young ones   The white China brought 3 pure bred China only— The other two common brought out 4 common Geese and 18 half bred Common & White China. There is no possibility of doubting about the cross, as they are far more Chinese than common—with long swan necks, & beautiful birds. Both the Common Geese which hatched, must have played false—the one which hatched none, of course I cannot accuse of incontinency.

The cross is so superior in size & beauty, that I am killing off the common Gander & mean to have no others but 12 breeds.

I told you I have a white China Gander most affectionately paired with a Canada Goose. Now for the sexes of sheep—Cows &c as far as I can give them. I shall go backwards for convenience.

Leicester Sheep Alderney Cows
Males females Males females
1868 23 12 1868 1 3
1867 23 23 1867 3 4
1866 24 18 1866
1865 15 11 1865 5 3
1864 26 24 1864 7 3
1863 . 1863
1862 1862 3 6
1861 15
1860 14 11
1859 16 9
1858 5 9
1857 7 12
1849 18 16 1849 3 6
1850 12 11 1850 3 .— 7
1851 1851 2 .— 5
1852 11 .— 5 27 . 37
209 170.

This is a very beggarly Table—but I find I cd not give correct lists of other years.

Merino sheep I know nothing whatever about. I am not sure that I ever saw one.

Did I tell you of a Herd of Cows at Trusley in Derbyshire—where last year 33 cow calves came to 1 Bull. (I feel sure this was the proportion, but will write & ask, if worth while to you. (I have since found my mema made at time from E Fosters lips—the Farmer they belonged to.)5

I have been delayed horribly in forwarding this by a multitude of causes— Terrible illness in Parish— The horrible Election which took me nearly a week to vote twice for liberals6—& a host of other things—which made it impossible to see another Keeper I wanted to.

I missed him 2ce—but caught him on Saturday. He has never observed that either crows or magpies ever are replaced when one is shot7—but he has known Cock birds go on sitting the eggs after he has killed the hen bird & hatch the young. He has also seen the Magpie gatherings early in Spring—or rather in Winter in the Forest, & that they were all paired afterwards.

To give you an idea of the number we used to have here, he once killed 7 Magpies at a shot out of a fir tree—while roosting.

Very many thanks for your kind expressions of regard &c about my health. I have been better during the last month, & have done a good deal. I am tomorrow going to Mr Woodds at Hillfield with my wife to stay a few days—see my Sisters—Dr &c.8 Were the time of year rather more favourable I wd have tried to accept your kind invitation.9 I shd much like to have a day with you once more, and again see Mrs Darwin. I hear you are having a Bust made—at which I rejoice.10

Kindest regards to Mrs & Miss Darwin11 | Ever yours, W D Fox

Decr 9.

CD annotations

1.1 Very … nearly equal. 6.3] crossed blue crayon
6.4 In domestic poultry] opening square bracket blue crayon
7.1 The Swan … 4 common 8.7] crossed blue crayon
8.7 Geese … incontinency 8.11] crossed pencil
9.1 The cross … convenience. 10.3] crossed blue crayon
12.1 Merino…one.] crossed blue crayon
13.1 Did I tell you] opening square bracket blue crayon
14.1 I have … the young. 15.3] crossed blue crayon
15.3 He has … roosting. 16.2] crossed ink
17.1 Very … Miss Darwin 18.1] crossed blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘China Goose’ blue crayon


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to W. D. Fox, 4 November 1868.
See letter from W. D. Fox, 29 October [1868]. The rook (Corvus frugilegus), carrion crow (C. corone), and magpie (Pica pica) are all members of the family Corvidae.
See letter to W. D. Fox, 4 November 1868 and n. 6. Fox refers to Leonard Jenyns and Thomas Bewick. Bewick gives the principal name ‘swan goose’ and the alternative names, Chinese, Spanish, Guinea, or Cape goose (Bewick 1826, 2: 274–5).
Philip Foster was a farmer in Trusley (Post Office directory of Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, & Rutlandshire). CD cited Fox for this information in Descent 1: 305.
Fox refers to the recent parliamentary election, which, for the district of mid-Cheshire (which included Northwich), was held on 21 November 1868 (The Times, 23 November 1868, p. 4). As the holder of a Cambridge degree, Fox would also have been entitled to vote for the parliamentary representative for the University of Cambridge, whose election was held on 16 November 1868 (The Times, 17 November 1868, p. 5).
The keeper has not been identified. For the views of Fox’s other informant on the subject, see the letter from W. D. Fox, 29 October [1868], and the letter to W. D. Fox, 4 November 1868.
Basil George Woodd, the father of Ellen Sophia Fox, lived in Hillfield, Hampstead. Ellen Sophia Fox had two sisters still living, Maria Jane Nevinson and Louisa Gertrude Walker. The doctor Fox refers to has not been identified, but for more on Fox’s recent health problems, see the letter from W. D. Fox, 29 October [1868].
CD had invited Fox to visit in his letter of 4 November 1868.
CD sat for the sculptor Thomas Woolner in November 1868 (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 26 November [1868] and n. 6).
Fox refers to Emma Darwin and Henrietta Emma Darwin.


Bewick, Thomas. 1826. A history of British birds. 2 vols. Newcastle: T. Bewick.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Post Office directory of Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, & Rutlandshire. London: Kelly & Co. 1864.


Hybrid geese.

Proportions of sexes in sheep and cattle.

Pairing habits of crows.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Darwin Fox
Charles Robert Darwin
Source of text
DAR 84.1: 126–7, DAR 85: B36–7
Physical description
8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6455,” accessed on 17 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16